If you have given up sugar for Lent,The Sugar Bean Sistersis the most enjoyable way around it.
The story revolves around the Mormon Nettle sisters, Faye and Willie Mae. The Nettles live a lonely life in the Floridian swamp town of Sugar Bean, though the years of relative isolation have done nothing to dampen their senses of humor. Willie Mae has a huge crush on Bishop Crumley and tries her best to be a devout sister to her Mormon community. Faye, on the other hand, is clearly the caregiver and the one in charge. She seems to be a rock — until she starts talking about Martians.
Faye and Willie Mae are in a “mood” as we meet them returning home from a day trip to Disney World. Willie Mae has lost her favorite Eva Gabor wig on one of the Disney rides and blames her sister. She broods over her complete hair loss and, therefore, her inability to find a husband. Faye is in a hurry to make final arrangements for the Martians’ inevitable arrival. She plans to go with them in their spaceship, away into space, forever and ever. Faye even prepares a welcome tray with sandwiches. But Faye worries about Willie Mae — what would happen to her if Faye weren’t there? The simplest solution is to be rid of Willie Mae. Enter Miss Videllia Sparks, a flamboyant and verbally challenged dancer from New Orleans. It is no coincidence that she arrives on this particular evening: an evening of truth-telling, spooky tales, plans thwarted or achieved.
Christina Cummings captures us immediately as Miss Videllia Sparks. She possesses the kind of bodily awareness that allows her to float and flit around the stage with prescribed inelegance, while controlling each movement into a kind of dance.
Yvonne Hill Herold knocks it out of the park as the straight-talking, man-walking, one-liner-dropping, strong yet undeniably vulnerable Faye Nettle. Melonea Marek’s Willie Mae brilliantly combines Vickie Lawrence’s “Mama” with a romantic young school girl, while costumes and wigs inspire unanimous snorts and howls of laughter from the audience.
Director Don Brandenburg makes wonderful use of Stan McGill’s Bishop Crumley to coax stories out of the characters. Bishop is the object of Willie Mae’s affection and the church leader who holds the Mormon community together in Sugar Bean. He is kind, compassionate and unerring. It is no wonder Willie Mae is head over heels. And Michele Powe’s Reptile Woman, who has powers to see truth, handle snakes, cut through lies, and predict the future, is fascinating and a joy to watch.
The set, brilliantly designed by Kayla Stephenson, is cozy, crowded, and, though not exactly comfortable for anyone but the Nettles, certainly well-loved and well-worn. Like Faye and Willie Mae, it is solid, busy, dependable, and predictable — until it isn’t. The higher the set goes, the more it reflects the Nettles’ own tenuous reach for their dreams. The rafters and the roof feel less solid, less trustworthy, like they’re only offering an illusion of stability. In one moment of physical and emotional vulnerability, Faye climbs up a ladder to the roof to reach out to the Martians. It is a private moment, equal parts hope and despair. Our hearts break a little, wondering if, because this ladder and rafter can hold her, maybe her dreams offer such substance as well?